The leaves on my street haven't started turning, yet pumpkin ales are already popping up in my local package store. We at Serious Eats have discussed pumpkin beers in depth last year and the year before. Fortunately for your trusty tasting team, there's a big crop of new pumpkin beers this season.
As we've mentioned in previous years, what we often think of as 'pumpkin flavors' are really pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Some brewers also add squash to their mash (no pun intended), but in beer, the vegetable flavor is usually subtler.
We tried 10 new beers, looking for a balance of pleasant pumpkin and subtle spices. Do you already have a favorite among these recent releases? Is there an excellent pumpkin beer we haven't tried? Let us know in the comments.
Serious Beer Ratings5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite
4/5 Awesome, stock up on this
3/5 Around average for the style
2/5 There are probably better options
1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water.
Flying Dog The Fear, Maryland 9.0% ABV
The Fear is a gorgeous beer—dark mahogany shot through with ruby highlights. Cinnamon and nutmeg come through clearly in the aroma, underlined by a whiff of alcohol. There's a stiff bitterness in the finish, but it's nicely balanced by sweet graham crackers, molasses, and spicy Mexican chocolate. I liked the judicious use of pumpkin-pie spices in this beer—they convey pumpkin-ness without being obnoxious. The alcohol causes noticeable warming, but perhaps this is just the ticket for fast-cooling fall evenings.
New Belgium/Elysian Lips of Faith Kick, Colorado 8.5% ABV
Kick is made with a blend of cranberries and aged in barrels, and these influences define the aroma and flavor. The nose is tart, with some musky notes of smoke. The flavor is a sour burst of cranberry followed by intense, candied-apple sweetness, ending in earthy malt. There wasn't much pumpkin to be found here, so if you have your heart set on that, look elsewhere. However, this is an excellent and unique fall beer.
Clipper City Heavy Seas, The Great Pumpkin, Maryland 8.0% ABV
Caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, and warming alcohol are all evident, making this a sipping beer probably best served with dessert. The pumpkin comes through clearly, and we also tasted ginger, a flavor that works so well with the pumpkin that I'm surprised it doesn't make its way into more of these brews.
Cambridge Brewing Company Great Pumpkin Ale, Massachusetts 4.2% ABV
Great Pumpkin Ale is an old crowd favorite, not a new release, but this is the first season you can get it in bottles instead of only at CBC's brewpub. We smelled banana bread and roasted squash, with pie spices playing backup roles. The flavor is mild and balanced. Flavors of crackers and pumpkin flesh are redolent in the peppery, dry finish. Cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg add nuance.
Cape Ann Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout, Massachusetts 7.0% ABV
We smelled nutmeg, herbal hops, and cocoa. The flavor up front is bitter, with a burst of spices and blackened toast, and it ends slow and dry on notes of coffee and pumpkin. The body is thin, but the beer is well-balanced with good use of pumpkin and spices.
Iron Hill The Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Delaware 9.0% ABV
Iron Hill's offering is sweet and fruity, with brown sugar and banana flavors that reminded me of Bananas Foster. You wouldn't guess that those flavors would pair well with roasted root vegetables and pumpkin spices, but the combination works.
Harpoon UFO Pumpkin, Massachusetts 5.9% ABV
Nutmeg and rye spices in the aroma are joined by banana and floral notes. The flavor is initially sweet, by quickly fades to a dry wheat finish. There are more spices than pumpkin here, and a light and refreshing body makes this more suited for a warm autumn day than a cold autumn night.
Wachusett Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Massachusetts 8.0% ABV
The aroma and flavor have subtle hints of pumpkin, but more typical ale characteristics are prominent. Sweet caramel malt, roasted earthy notes, and an herbal-tea, hop-bitterness make this beer more of an ale with pumpkin than a pumpkin ale.
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat, Missouri 5.2% ABV
The nose is mild fruit and caramel, and the flavor is characterized by a sweet, acidic sourness. Herbs and citrus stick around for a long finish, where vegetable pumpkin and corn flavors also appear. A thin body and some metal in the aftertaste prevent this from being a better brew.
Sixpoint Autumnation, New York 6.8% ABV
Autumnation is defined more by intense, pungent wet citrus hops than by pumpkin. The flavor is prickly and peppery, ending with a dry, grain-and-biscuit sourness. What wrecked this beer for our tasters was a sulfuric onion and garlic flavor in the finish.
Disclosure: All beers except Harpoon, CBC, and Cape Ann were provided as samples for review.
About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.